Photography in the age of Snapchat
By Daniel Miller, on 2 February 2014
I want to suggest that conventionally when we consider the role of the photograph in society, we see this as a kind of three stage movement. First there is the practice of photography itself. We have assumed that this was merely the requisite technology, largely the handmaiden to the desire to have a photograph. Then there is the object, the photograph, and that was assumed in turn to be the handmaiden to the ultimate aim, which was to record something. The photograph was there to serve as an object of memory, a technical facility to retain an image beyond the relatively poor ability of the brain to accurately retain images of the past. It could be as an art, but it was more often a wedding or holiday.
Today most photographs are taken for their use in social media. Figures quoted online vary but it is suggested around 350 million photos are shared per day on Facebook, 55 million on Instagram, 400 million on WhatsApp and 450 million on Snapchat.
I want to suggest that as a result, we need to completely turn on its head our conventional understanding of photography. Memory has been reduced merely to the legitimation of having a photograph, but the photograph itself has lost its position as the aim of the exercise since mostly the photo is merely the excuse for what now takes centre stage which is the act of taking a photograph. Photography as an activity has moved from background to foreground. Fortunately we can see this sequence more clearly because it corresponds to the development of three social media sites in sequence. The movement from Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat/WhatsApp.
Photography on Facebook
Facebook now appears as the convenient bridge between more traditional photography and the more recent social media. Facebook places considerable importance on the photo album and the collecting of images. Everything shared whether tagged or not is also stored. One of the reasons Facebook’s long term future is likely to be older people, is that it is very effective in this role, certainly compared to conventional photograph album and the analogue photo. As Xinyuan recently noted you can turn to QQ to see yourself as you looked ten years ago when you first joined QQ, soon this will be common on Facebook.
Photography on Instagram
Photography on Instagram has a much more transient feel than Facebook. In working with young people I find that Instagram gives them a kind of creative project. All day they can think about what would make a good photograph? (similarly, what would make a clever tweet?). If they don’t see anything else, they can always take a Selfie. This gives purpose to the day and becomes a bulwark against the constant concern with being bored. As such, where once we framed the photograph, now we use photography to frame experience. Here we see the reversed sequence. Storing the photo, as in Facebook, is exposed as mere excuse for having a photo, which in turn is mere excuse for the real purpose, which is the project enacted by the act of photography itself.
Photography on Snapchat/WhatsApp
It was Snapchat that bludgeoned to death our conventional view of photography. If the photo can only last for a maximum of ten seconds, then we can’t even pretend it’s about memory or even about the image. The point about Instagram is now made explicit. It can only be the act of taking that matters. Except that on Snapchat/WhatsApp we realise that this is not just individual experience it is a social act, we take pictures in order to share, and to see the response to our sharing. We have to take the word ‘Snapchat’ literally – the photograph is just a form of chat, saying Hi, a more interesting emoticon. WhatsApp is a bit less violent a repudiation of the photograph, but still highly transient. Clearly we may work with all three of these social media and all three of these relationships to photography.
As I will argue in a more extended paper, the mistake is to think this makes photography more superficial, actually I will argue this makes photography more profound.
16 Responses to “Photography in the age of Snapchat”
ksaputro wrote on 2 February 2014:
Jadi, foto di jaman snapchat bukan lagi untuk mengenang, tetapi sekedar hasil dari hal yg lebih penting: memotret. http://t.co/VT6n9eNqFc
Trnjina Trnsun wrote on 2 February 2014:
Trnjina Trnsun liked this on Facebook.
ideasbazaar wrote on 2 February 2014:
‘Memory has been reduced merely to the legitimation of having a photograph’. @dannyanth on the need to rethink photos http://t.co/g28oeS987W
OllyOsborne wrote on 3 February 2014:
“Photography in the age of @snapchat ” there’s a lot of theorising happening, its making my dissertation more legit!x http://t.co/QBnIh0S2z7
14_19 wrote on 4 February 2014:
Short but sweet – Photography in the Age of @Snapchat by @dannyanth. looking forward to reading this piece in full http://t.co/N5OOjUtJjR
rumagin wrote on 4 February 2014:
est. 350million photos shared per day on FB, 55million on Instagram, 400million on WhatsApp & 450million on Snapchat http://t.co/llSJJueFnl
JonAkwue wrote on 4 February 2014:
Photography in the age of Snapchat: http://t.co/0LSQJuiwcV Interesting research project by @UCLSocNet
bradyjay wrote on 5 February 2014:
in this piece, @DannyAnth suggests Snapchat has ‘bludgeoned to death our conventional view of photography’ http://t.co/PDtLgazJ9t
tamaleaver wrote on 5 February 2014:
RT @bradyjay: in this piece, @DannyAnth suggests Snapchat has ‘bludgeoned to death our conventional view of photography’ http://t.co/PDtLga…
WeAreAdam wrote on 5 February 2014:
@JonAkwue @UCLSocNet The psychology behind the “Selfie Generation” – a really interesting read, thank you for sharing, Jonathan.
mattlew wrote on 6 February 2014:
Photography in the age of Snapchat http://t.co/H8NhjsrVjn
crispinheath wrote on 7 February 2014:
RT @JonAkwue: Photography in the age of Snapchat: http://t.co/0LSQJuiwcV Interesting research project by @UCLSocNet
TimeChangeGirl wrote on 7 February 2014:
Photography in the age of Snapchat “It was Snapchat that bludgeoned to death our conventional view of photography.”
JulianBuenoA wrote on 20 May 2016:
Interesting text! what I see more relevant in the snapchat phenomena is the possibility to write on the photo, to draw and directly to emotionally deform the photo. Instagram and FB are still based on the “purity” of photography
RT @UCLSocNet: how has #socialmedia changed the practice and meaning of photography? #snapchat #instagram http://t.co/fP4jPjmmxK